Background: The peripheral blood neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) is a cytologic marker of both inflammation and poor outcomes in patients with cancer. DNA methylation is a key element of the epigenetic program defining different leukocyte subtypes and may provide an alternative to cytology in assessing leukocyte profiles. Our aim was to create a bioinformatic tool to estimate NLR using DNA methylation, and to assess its diagnostic and prognostic performance in human populations.
Methods: We developed a DNA methylation–derived NLR (mdNLR) index based on normal isolated leukocyte methylation libraries and established cell-mixture deconvolution algorithms. The method was applied to cancer case–control studies of the bladder, head and neck, ovary, and breast, as well as publicly available data on cancer-free subjects.
Results: Across cancer studies, mdNLR scores were either elevated in cases relative to controls, or associated with increased hazard of death. High mdNLR values (>5) were strong indicators of poor survival. In addition, mdNLR scores were elevated in males, in nonHispanic white versus Hispanic ethnicity, and increased with age. We also observed a significant interaction between cigarette smoking history and mdNLR on cancer survival.
Conclusions: These results mean that our current understanding of mature leukocyte methylomes is sufficient to allow researchers and clinicians to apply epigenetically based analyses of NLR in clinical and epidemiologic studies of cancer risk and survival.
Impact: As cytologic measurements of NLR are not always possible (i.e., archival blood), mdNLR, which is computed from DNA methylation signatures alone, has the potential to expand the scope of epigenome-wide association studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 26(3); 328–38. ©2016 AACR.
This article is featured in Highlights of This Issue, p. 287
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention Online (http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/).
D.C. Koestler and J. Usset are co-first authors of this article.
- Received June 3, 2016.
- Revision received September 27, 2016.
- Accepted October 19, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.